Unesco appeals to Syrian fighters to spare heritage sites

Tue, Oct 2, 2012, 01:00

CLASHES AND fresh fires broke out yesterday in the old city of Aleppo where entire sectors of the 13th-century bazaar, a Unesco world heritage site, were gutted at the weekend. Unesco chief Irina Bokova appealed to all forces to do their utmost to spare these “monuments to human history” and pledged to send a mission to assess damage in Aleppo.

“The human suffering caused by this situation is already extreme,” she said, “That the fighting is now destroying cultural heritage that bears witness to the country’s millenary history – valued and admired the world over – makes it even more tragic.”

Experts were set to meet in Cairo to discuss the dangers posed by the conflict in Syria to the country’s ancient locations and historical monuments following allegations that many have been shelled or damaged, and museums and sites have been looted.

A rebel bombing and ambush killed 18 and wounded 30 loyalist troops in a convoy travelling from Damascus to Palmyra, the Britain-based opposition Syrian Observatory for Human Rights reported.

An air strike killed 21, including eight children, in the rebel-held town of Salqin, six kilometres from the Turkish border, the observatory said, adding that government forces had attempted to enter the town but were repelled by rebel fighters. If this report is confirmed, it would appear that government troops have pushed deep into Idlib province, claimed by the rebels as a key stronghold.

The Yemeni government said five of its soldiers captured by the al-Qaeda-linked Nusra Front had been studying at the Aleppo military academy and were on their way home when they were seized. The front has broadcast a video showing the men calling on Sanaa to cease supporting president Bashar al-Assad.

Ankara said the number of refugees seeking safety across the border was nearing the 100,000 threshold. Turkey has already halted the flow, leaving thousands stranded at crossings.

The Independent reported that Turkey and Qatar have withheld heavy weapons and light arms from rebel groups fighting in Aleppo due to their refusal to unite under a single command as a UN official said divisions among militias and the political opposition form a major obstacle to efforts to end the conflict. Mokhtar Lamani, Damascus representative of UN-Arab League envoy Lakhdar Brahimi, complained that the fragmentation was “dangerous” and complicating work of the mission.

Meanwhile, on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly in New York, Syrian foreign minister Walid Muallem accused the US of trying to topple the Syrian regime by raising false fears over chemical weapons. He insisted Syria did not have a “stockpile of chemical weapons” and that the government had no intention of using such weapons against its own people.